Alison Moore’s hero in The Lighthouse is called Futh; the sound you might make trying to spit out an insect that has flown into your mouth. It suits him, he seems to irritate the people he meets, but the subtlety of Moore’s narrative is that he doesn’t really understand why. At the opening of the book, Futh is on a ferry, going on a solo holiday to Germany, his ancestral home, knowing that while he is away his wife is boxing up his belongings and moving them out of the house. As in Virgina Woolf’s similarly-titled novel, the action is all interior, and the plot subservient to character. Futh takes the opportunity on his walk to remember his life, and we begin to understand the conscious and unconscious influences that have led him to his present predicament.
The lighthouse of the title is a silver perfume bottle treasured by Futh as a memento of his lost mother. Futh himself is a perfumier and the book is pervaded with Proustian scents; oranges, violets, cigarettes, camphor. As the book progresses, the fragrances seem to intensify. The lighthouse is also the name of the first and last hotel on his walking tour; Hellhaus, and Moore weaves in the narrative of Ester, the hotelier’s wife, whose future we feel is somehow bound up with Futh’s as he begins his circular walk.
Futh’s innate inadequacy is shown by his feet; first blistered in his boots, then sunburned in his sandals. He misses meals and mixes up his hotel arrangements due to an inability to cope with the world.
The denoument is sudden and shocking, but after the reflection it caused, I began to think about fate and inevitability. Alison Moore cleverly shows that what happens to Futh is the product of his memories and experiences. It is this commentary on our inability to escape our own nature which makes The Lighthouse a strong candidate for this year’s Man Booker prize.
The Lighthouse is published by Salt: www.saltpublishing.com